At its simplest, Palladianism describes the taste that dominated English architecture in the first half of the eighteenth century. It rejected the Baroque style prevailing since the 1660s, epitomised by Sir Christopher Wren and his circle. Its promoters, particularly Colen Campbell (1676-1729) and Lord Burlington (1694-1753), believed that certain architects such as Andrea Palladio (1508-80) and Inigo Jones (1576-1652) were modern masters of their art. They had adapted for contemporary use the architecture of ancient Rome and provided a standard to be followed. Proportion and propriety were all important.
In the eighteenth century, books became of growing importance to architecture.
Knowledge of this new style was spread by various publications such as Campbell’s Vitruvius Britannicus (3 volumes, 1715-25). Key buildings that conformed to the style were engraved with plans, elevations and perspectives. Stourhead House, Mereworth and Houghton Hall all featured prominently, as did those not approved of, like Blenheim and Castle Howard: this was the architectural equivalent of ‘What Not To Wear.’
At the same time as architecture became more bound by rules, in contrast Burlington’s protégé William Kent (1685-1748) promoted a new relaxed style of gardening. This softened the formal Baroque garden, allowing it to merge with the landscape. Immensely popular, this resulted in the advent of the professional landscape-gardener, the best known being Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716-83). To best appreciate this phenomenon, we can again visit Stourhead, with its wide expanses of lawns, clumps of trees and temples.